Organizations and management structures are always changing. If your company is going to weather these shifts successfully, you need competent, flexible managers--especially when it comes to customer service. Managers don’t just need to adapt personally to change, they also need to help their teams do so. If you can develop and attract exceptional managers, you’ll have an enormous advantage when the time comes for your teams to adapt to new situations and realities. To make sure you’re ready, focus now on developing support manager skills that will help your organization successfully grow with the business.
Beyond setting the stage for successful growth, great managers also impact day-to-day department success. In any organization, employee satisfaction hinges on many things, but how well they’re being managed is always right there at the top. A good manager makes all the difference, in job satisfaction, engagement, and performance. This is true across all industries and for companies large or small. If you want engaged, happy agents (and you should) they need strong support and leadership from the top.
Unfortunately, some supervisors achieve their position based on longevity or politics, not based on their readiness to lead. A person isn’t ready to manage others just because she knows your business inside and out, or because he’s been in the department for years.
So, what makes a good manager? Managing the ticket queue, improving processes, achieving performance goals, and keeping customer satisfaction high is important, of course—but so is managing people, which is one of the job's most important responsibilities. Your customer service managers need to have or develop the essential soft skills to be effective at building relationships. That's not an easy job—it takes training, personal experience, and finely attuned problem resolution skills.
Skills to look for
Experts agree that exceptional managers across all industries share common traits and bring specific skills and experience to the table. As we’ve built out Zendesk’s customer service department, we’ve identified eight traits–core skills–of effective customer support team managers. To be successful as a team lead, and be considered for future advancement into management roles, employees must score high in these areas: communication, direction setting, motivating and recognizing, conflict-resolution, hiring, onboarding and diversity, change management, and removing roadblocks.
Each of these core competencies require slightly different managerial and leadership skills. Communication and motivating/recognizing, for example, require supervisors to forge strong interpersonal relationships and build trust within a team. Skills like direction-setting, change management, and conflict management require that customer support managers be strategically minded, closely aligned to business goals, tough but fair, and able to rally a team around a shared goal. For a supervisor to shine in hiring the right applicants and adhere to onboarding and diversity goals, he or she must possess a keen eye for talent, a respect for all types of people, and the ability to develop talent in team members.
The next step: developing these traits
Having pinpointed where and how excellent managers rise above the average ones, we can now look for these qualities and develop them in existing employees. With the right training, you can prepare these employees to take on the kind of leadership jobs that will help your company handle adversity gracefully.
In addition to managing well, managers also need to lead by example when it comes to adapting to growth and change. It’s critical that growing companies invest in effective training and be able to motivate managers who will lead their teams well in times of movement and change. You want supervisors who know how to inspire employees, have a solid understanding of their responsibilities as support managers, and possess the communication skills needed to motivate teams to excel at their jobs.
Bottom line: every agent in your customer service department deserves a terrific manager. This is especially true during periods of transition and growth, when operations come under strain. It's during those times when leaders with proven ability, experience, and training can turn difficult times into ones of opportunity and growth. To ensure this happens, you need to:
- Get regular feedback from agents regarding their satisfaction with their job, their team, and their support manager;
- Plan for growth by coaching and mentoring the people in your team who have management potential, which will pay significant dividends as customer service operations face new and long-term challenges; and,
- Hire managers based on established skills and core competencies so you only hire the best candidates for the job.